There are a number of beneficial tax provisions that have been implemented to help military members who have been deployed to combat zones and their families. Two substantial benefits are extensions of filing deadlines and military pay exclusions. To be able to take advantage of these special tax treatments, however, specific requirements need to be met. The following takes a brief look at some of the regulations affecting military members when serving in combat zones. More information can be found on the IRS website or in IRS Publication 3 – Armed Forces’ Tax Guide.
Per IRS Publication 3, the U.S. Armed Forces comprise officers and enlisted personnel in all regular and reserve units subject to control by the Secretaries of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The U.S. Merchant Marine and the American Red Cross are not included.
Per the IRS website, combat zones are specified by executive orders from the President. They are regions (including the airspace above them) in which the U.S. Armed Forces currently are or previously were engaged in combat. At this time, there are three combat zones:
In addition to these designated combat zones, the Department of Defense has ordered several other areas to qualify for combat zone tax benefits. These regions have played crucial roles in supporting military operations under either Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. A few examples are Pakistan, Tajikistan, Jordan, Yemen, and Somalia.
When serving in combat zones, military members and their spouses are allowed an extension to file their Forms 1040. The deadline is extended for 180 days after the service member’s last day in a combat zone. Additionally, any period of time before the regular filing deadline that the service member spent in a combat zone is added to the 180 days. For instance, if a service member deployed to a combat zone on January 15, 2016 and returned November 15, 2016, the deadline for filing his 2015 Form 1040 would be extended for 274 days (180 days plus the 94 days he was deployed prior to April 18, 2016) after he returned on November 15, 2016, making his filing deadline August 16, 2017. The IRS has listed many examples on its website and in its Publication 3 for guidance.
Enlisted members, warrant officers, and commissioned warrant officers, who serve in combat zones during any part of a month, can exclude all of their military pay for that month from their gross income. This rule applies to commissioned officers as well, but with one limitation. The amount of the income tax exclusion is limited to the highest rate of enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received. For 2015, the exclusion amount is $8,119.50 per month ($7,894.50 for the highest enlisted pay plus $225 for imminent danger pay).
There are many other tax regulations that affect individuals serving in the military. As mentioned, the foregoing is intended to take a glimpse at some of the tax benefits received by service members deployed to combat zones. The IRS has a section on its website dedicated to giving military members tax information and, more specifically, rules regarding combat zone service. IRS Publication 3 is also a useful resource.